Dr. Charles Barg, a family practitioner in Little Rock, AR, talks about the impact his Jewish father had on him while growing up in a small town in the 1950's.
Dr. Charles Barg, a family practitioner in Little Rock, AR, talks about the impact his Jewish father had on him while growing up in a small town in the 1950's.
Bob: At the turn of the century in cities all across America, millions of immigrant families were adapting to a new and unfamiliar culture, struggling to survive – immigrant families like Israel Barg and his 11 sons.
Charles: Dad was the youngest of that whole brood. It was an interesting family. They grew up in Chicago, and some of the children got mixed up with the mob back in those days, and a few of them went to prison. One of my dad's brothers was there at the same time that Al Capone was, and two of my uncles actually worked in Capone's organization.
Bob: While the Barg family tried fitting into a new culture in a new world, there were certain aspects of being a Barg that would never be new; that would remain rooted in tradition.
Charles: Eastern European Jews came to America; they heard that America was the land of the free and the home of the brave, and many of them headed this way. We were raised orthodox. My parents' families had been observant Orthodox Jews. My mom and dad were both fiercely proud of being Orthodox Jews, and we kept the holy days – Yom Kippur, Rosh Hashanah and some of the others, and I was trained and bar-mitzvahed in an Orthodox congregation.
Bob: Young Charlie Barg grew up with a dilemma. On one hand, he had the traditions of home, and outside his front door was a very different world.
Charles: I felt a part of the gentile community and also the Jewish community. I was comfortable in both but not completely a part of either.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Wednesday, June 9th. Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. Today we'll introduce you to a man who was caught between two worlds and two fathers.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us. You know, I think, Dennis, the connection between faith and family is probably more powerful than any of us realize. I think, from a human perspective, the family we grow up in shapes our thinking about God and about spirituality, again, from a human perspective, more than anything else.
Dennis: That's right, and our fathers have a profound impact on what we believe, and we have with us today my doctor – Charlie Barg. I can't call him Dr. Barg. He's Charlie to me. I've gone to church with Charlie for nearly a quarter century after his conversion from Judaism, he became a believer, and decided to join a bunch of redeemed Gentiles and join us in church, and I've known Charlie and his wife Linda for a number of years. They have four children, and he wrote a book called "Between Two Fathers," and, Charlie, I just want to tell you you're a good doctor, and you're a good writer, as well.
Charles: Thanks, Dennis.
Dennis: I'm glad you're here, and glad we have a chance to share your story with our listeners.
Your first remembrance of your dad occurred when you were four years of age.
Charles: That's right. My dad was gone. He was off in the Pacific theater in the U.S. Marines. I don't remember him until I was four. That's when he came home. I was raised, actually, in my grandfather's house by my grandfather and grandmother and my mother while my dad was overseas in the Pacific theater. So the first time I ever saw him, I was four years old, and he was so big.
Dennis: How was he dressed?
Charles: He had on his Marine Corps uniform, he had on his khaki uniform, and he'd come home on leave. I believe we had gone out to California when I was real young – I can't remember the age, but I was just a baby, and I don't remember him from there. So I had seen him, but my first recollection was age four, and I just remember this big, tall, blond-haired, blue-eyed, real tough-looking Marine looking at me with a great big smile on his face.
Dennis: There's quite a story just about your dad and the family that he came from. His mom – he was one of 11 children.
Dennis: That came over from …
Charles: … the old country – Lithuania, the Ukraine.
Dennis: And they grew up near Chicago.
Charles: They grew up in Chicago, that's right, on the mean streets of Chicago, and Dad was the youngest of that whole brood.
Dennis: It was a family of great contrast, wasn't it?
Charles: It was, it was. His mother had been married before to a man who left her to come to the United States to seek employment, and he kind of disappeared, and they didn't hear from him, so she gathered up the children and came over and found him. They were reconciled but – and had, I think, a few more children, but he still wasn't interested in working, and she wasn't interested in being the sole provider for the family, so she worked, and I think they sent him out of the house, and then she met my grandfather, who was quite a bit younger than her but a real hard worker, and they had three children. My dad was the youngest of that, so he was the youngest of all the children.
It was an interesting family. They grew up in Chicago, and some of the children got mixed up with the mob, back in those days, and a few of them went to prison.
Dennis: We're talking gangsters, at this point?
Charles: Gangsters – Capone – two of my uncles actually worked, at a very low level – they were bouncers in the brothels of Cicero in Capone's organization.
Dennis: Your dad, however, was of a different bolt of cloth. He was heroic; he was commissioned by his mom to be the peacemaker in the family.
Charles: He was, and he was the peacemaker for the rest of his life until he passed away about five years ago.
Bob: Now, you grew up in a very non-Jewish community. You grew up in Forrest City, Arkansas, right?
Bob: And were there other Jewish families in Forrest City other than the Bargs?
Charles: Well, there were. You know, many of the Eastern European Jews came to America. They heard that America was the land of the free and the home of the brave, and many of them headed this way, and my grandparents, most of them, came over around 1903 through 1906. Three of my grandparents were from Lithuania. I guess they go back for a couple of hundred years to Lithuania, and before then the Jewish migrations across Europe – Germany, France; before then, the Mediterranean; before then, probably, Babylonia. My Grandfather Barg was from the Ukraine in Kiev. He was a tall, strong, blond-haired, blue-eyed – like my dad. He had a strong back, average intelligence, and a great work ethic.
Dennis: Now, the Jewish family that you grew up in – would you characterize it as Reformed or Orthodox?
Charles: It was an Orthodox family, yes. Usually, when you say "Eastern European Jew" you can almost say Orthodox synonymously with that. That's the synagogue Jew.
Bob: That means that you observed the Sabbath, you participated in the feasts and the festivals and kept the law, is that right?
Charles: Well, we were raised Orthodox, but in Forrest City it's hard to be strictly Orthodox, because, for one thing, it's difficult to keep kosher. Some people were able to live apart from a larger community and keep kosher, but it was very difficult at that time, particularly before refrigeration. So my parents' families had been observant Orthodox Jews. We were Orthodox Jews nominally but weren't able to be observant.
In the South, back in those days, most of the small towns, particularly in the delta areas – Arkansas and Mississippi – had several Jewish families in the community, but if the town had any size at all, I mean, 1,000, 1,200 people, there were generally going to be a couple of Jewish families there, and they were linked together by their religion, by their tradition, and socially.
On the other hand, I also felt very much a part of the community. I was in the Gentile fraternities and went to all the dances and, you know, I was as popular as I wanted to be. And so I felt a part of the Gentile community and also the Jewish community. I would go to Memphis for my bar mitzvah training and for confirmation from Sunday school and for special family events and for the high holy days – Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah and observe the Jewish holidays with my family, and then I'd be able to come back to Forrest City and be just like my friends, the Gentiles. I was comfortable in both but not completely a part of either.
Dennis: You had an accident when you were four years of age that forged a bit of a bond between you and your father.
Charles: I did. I can remember it vividly. Again, I was four years old. I just had discovered my father. I was extremely proud of him. He was big and tall and strong and courageous and everything that a young boy could imagine about his father, what he'd want in his father. He was noble, he was restrained, he was power under control. I was in awe of him. I don't remember exactly the timeline, but my grandfather died suddenly that same year after he and I went out for an ice cream. I remember him over my Dad's shoulder with Dad rushing him, during the middle of the night, out to the hospital, and he didn't survive the trip to the hospital, which was a couple of blocks away.
That same year, I can remember my grandmother was ironing, and I had seen her put an ice pick up on the top shelf. Now, back then, we didn't have the same kind of refrigeration. We used to go down to the corner ice house and chip off some block ice, and that's how we got ice for our cold drinks, particularly in those hot Arkansas summers. And I went up to take a look at this tool that I'd seen her use to chip ice, and when I did, I decided to use it to fix my tricycle out in the yard, so I went out in the yard and flipped the tricycle upside down and was working on the tire with the wooden end of the ice pick. I'm not sure what needed fixing, probably nothing. I was just a young boy playing with a dangerous tool, and I can remember it like it was yesterday, that the sharp end went into my left eye, and I yelled. And then my second emotion was I was afraid I was going to get caught, and I was going to be in trouble for climbing up and getting the ice pick.
So my grandmother heard my screams, and she came out in the yard and I remember Dad coming home, and they took me a couple of blocks up the street to the general practitioner there, and he looked at my eye, and he said, "He's going to be okay. Just watch him and see how he's doing in the morning." Within a day or two, it started getting real red, and then it got real infected, and Dad took me to Memphis. There was an eye surgeon there that looked at it, and they wanted to protect the eye, save it, and not have to remove it. And so the doctor then told Dad to take me home. He let me sleep in their bedroom; raised the shade on the east side of the house each morning, and if I really winced and tried to cover my eye, and that sunlight seemed painful, to bring me back immediately.
And I can remember the morning they opened the shade, and the sunlight was painful. Dad took me right back to the doctor, and they kept me there, and they tried some antibiotics. I'm not sure exactly which antibiotics they had available at that time, but they tried the antibiotics; they didn't work. And finally the infection was traveling across the optic nerve to the other side, which infections of the eye tended to do at that time, which I was going blind in both eyes. So they took my left eye out to preserve the vision in the right eye as well.
I don't remember this part, but they – my mom and dad told me that the infection continued to travel, and if that didn't help, then I was going blind in the other eye, and the doctor – Dr. Carl Rightner in Memphis, was able to get a new antibiotic, which I presume was one of the mycin drugs, perhaps, streptomycin, and they started me on that, and the infection went away. And during that time, my mother was pregnant with my sister, and my mother was very – she just passed away this May – but she was just a lovely, Southern woman – full of compassion and just so sweet, and it was just emotionally overwhelming. Here she had just lost her father, she was pregnant with my sister; she had lost three babies before I was born.
I'm the oldest and firstborn, and she couldn't bear to look at me in the hospital. And so Dad went up and stayed with me in the hospital for, I guess, it was a couple of months, the whole ordeal, and during that time my Dad, who was such a hard-working guy and had never slowed down in his life, I could see God's hand in that, because I had a chance to really know my dad in a tender and intimate way, where he would read me stories and hold me on his lap and rock me in the rocking chair. Those great, big hands on my smaller arms and on my legs and just reassuring me and telling me – assuring me that everything was going to be all right.
You didn't know my dad, Dennis, but when Dad said everything was going to be all right it was – when Dad walked in the room, everybody felt that everything was going to be all right.
Dennis: He really was a peacemaker.
Charles: He was.
Dennis: And so everything was okay.
Charles: It was okay.
Dennis: You lost your one eye but retained sight in your right eye.
Dennis: And went on to – all the way through your childhood experience looking up to your father, who had a number of business experiences during those years. He actually was a pilot for a while?
Dennis: And that rubbed off on you?
Charles: It did. I used to fly with my dad, and in the old days off a grass strip in Forrest City, and he had one of those biplanes, a Stearman, and then he had a series of planes, and I just grew up flying around the country with him and, at one point, after I had become a physician, years later, I thought, "Well, I need to get my pilot's license," and I thought it was just a spontaneous thought, but as I think back about it, it was – my dad was a pilot, so I wanted to fly as well.
Dennis: There is a story you tell about your dad, when you were yet a little boy, of a fight between two people down at his place of business. He ran a scrap metal business, and there was – one man was about to take the life of another man.
Charles: Yes, this is a great story. Just after Dad got out of the Marine Corps in, I believe, 1946, he hired a young black man to be his assistant on the road, and this black man's name was Theotus Warren. We called him "Cross" or "Sonny Cross," and he was a second father to me. He was quite a bit younger than my dad. I would say he is about, maybe, 13, 14, 15 years older than me. Cross, his mom and dad, didn't raise him, his grandparents raised him. So when Dad hired him, Dad became as a father to him, and Dad had those feelings toward him. Back in those days, Arkansas was racially separate. Dad would take a road trip up to Chicago or somewhere, and they'd eat in the same restaurants and stay in the same rooms, and if somebody said anything oppressive to Cross, it was the same thing as if they were saying that to him.
This particular day, I remember being with Dad at our downtown store, and we had a storage area on the outskirts of Forrest City, my home town. I remember Dad getting a phone call, and I heard an urgency in Dad's voice, and he said, "Let's go," and threw me in the car alongside of him, and we raced across town, and when we got there, the scene I remember is – there was a white man named "Chiney," who was kind of a hard-drinking, two-fisted kind of a guy that liked to throw his weight around. He was just a bully. And he had Cross pinned against the side of a building, and he was jealous of Cross. Cross – the way he lived and conducted himself, and Cross's wife was a schoolteacher at the black school in Forrest City at that time, Lincoln High School, and Cross was a very classy fellow, and Chiney was jealous of him, and Chiney had a gun to his head, and Dad pulled up …
Dennis: … you're talking about a pistol?
Charles: A pistol.
Dennis: A .45?
Charles: A .45.
Dennis: He was about to shoot him?
Charles: He was going to shoot him, he was getting ready to kill him when Dad and I pulled up. And Dad drew the car up right next to him. I know he was concerned about me, but Dad had a lot of confidence in his own abilities, and he just patted me on the arm, and he told me everything was going to be all right, just to be quiet. And Dad opened the door of the car, which was on the same side as Chiney and Cross, so that Chiney had his back to Dad. Dad moved around the back of him and eased in from the side and was talking in a low voice to Chiney, trying to tell him to put the gun down. Chiney began to raise his voice and threaten he was going to kill Cross and called him – using all sorts of street names for Cross, and Dad was unfazed. Dad just kept moving, didn't raise his voice, didn't threaten. And, finally, he juxtaposed his own body between the two so that now the gun is directly on Dad's head.
Now, I was looking at him – from my position in the car I can see Dad face-to-face. Chiney had his back to me. And there was no fear in my Dad's eyes – no anger – it was determination. It was a look of absolute determination. Dad just reached up with his hand, and he took that pistol away. He said, "You're going to have to shoot me first. You're not going to do anything with that gun to Cross." And Dad reached up slowly, and he disarmed Chiney and took the gun away, and then with his other hand, he reached up, and he grabbed Chiney by the neck and turned him around and lifted him up against the wall, and I saw him lose his – just for a second – like he'd lost it, and he drew his hand back, and then – this is so characteristic of Dad – you could see him, he always thought about it before he did anything, and then he let go of him, and Chiney just kind of fell down in a whimpering heap on the ground.
Dennis: Your dad didn't hit him?
Charles: He didn't hit him.
Dennis: But he almost did.
Charles: He almost did.
Dennis: And, as a little boy, looking up at your dad, what was going through your mind?
Charles: I remember being afraid for my dad's life. I didn't think at all about what would happen to me, but I was afraid something would happen to my dad. I suppose that was the most important thing in my life at that moment – the power of a father in the life of a son. Here this man, this courageous, big, strong, man who could control – corral his emotions like that – that even bullies were afraid of, was my father. I was so filled with pride and excitement and just so overjoyed with that. And then after that, relief that nothing had happened to him. And I remember wanting to sit next to him in the car, going home, and get as close as I could and just kind of touch him, smell him, you know, like young boys do with their dad. They want to smell how their dads smell and touch their dads and things that you always want to do with your dad so that you can be intimate with him and know him. I remember all those feelings running through my mind.
Bob: Well, we've been hearing a powerful story today from Dr. Charlie Barg about the profound influence that his family had on his life. That story is going to take some dramatic turns over the next couple of days, and I want to encourage our listeners to stay with us as we continue our conversation with Dr. Barg.
But right here, Dennis, let me jump in and remind our listeners that, a number of years ago, you wrote a book where you challenged all of us to take some specific steps to honor our parents and specifically to write a tribute, a formal tribute, something we would present to our parents, that expresses honor and admiration and appreciation for the role that they have played in our lives. That book is just now being newly updated and re-released, and I want to encourage our listeners – I know there's not time to get a copy of the book and to write something for your dad for Father's Day this year, but you can begin the process of considering how you might want to honor your parents formally by getting a copy of this book by Dennis Rainey. We've got it in our FamilyLife Resource Center. It is just back from the printer. You can contact us at 1-800-FLTODAY for information on how to get a copy or you can go online at FamilyLife.com and begin the process now of being ready at Christmastime or at an upcoming anniversary or maybe even for Father's Day next year – being ready to express words of appreciation for your dad and to honor him.
Again, the toll-free number is 1-800-FLTODAY or go online at FamilyLife.com and ask about the book, "On Honoring Your Parents" by Dennis Rainey. Then let me also encourage you to get a copy of the book by Dr. Charlie Barg that tells his story. It's called "Between Two Fathers," and it's a book that we also have available in our FamilyLife Resource Center. This is a book that I know Dr. Barg wrote in hopes that it could be passed on to someone who is Jewish – someone who grew up in a Jewish home. They could read about Charlie's path from his Jewish heritage to his Christian faith. And so if you know somebody who is Jewish, and you'd like to pass this book along to them, or if you'd just like to read a riveting story about what it was like for Charlie Barg to grow up in this situation, contact us and ask about the book, "Between Two Fathers."
Our toll-free number, again, is 1-800-358-6329 – that's 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY. Or go online at FamilyLife.com, and we'll have a copy of the book sent to you.
You know, Father's Day is a week-and-a-half away, and it is the theme, I know, Dennis, in a letter that you recently sent to many of our listeners, encouraging all of us, as dads, to build a stronger relationship with our sons and our daughters, and there is a resource that we have made available to listeners who help support our ministry this month – actually, a couple of resources – some small books that I've used for years called, "How To Be Your Daughter's Daddy," or "How To Be Your Little Man's Dad." These books offer practical suggestions on building a stronger relationship with your children, especially when they are young.
We are making these books available to those of you who help support the ministry this month, and we appreciate your financial support; in fact, we depend on it to be able to keep FamilyLife Today on the air. If you'd like to make a donation to FamilyLife Today, go to our website at FamilyLife.com. You can donate online or call 1-800-FLTODAY, and you can make a donation right over the phone. If you'd like to write a check and mail it to us, you can contact us, and we can pass the mailing address along to you. Either give us a call or go to our website, again, at FamilyLife.com.
Well, tomorrow we are going to continue the story with our guest, Dr. Charlie Barg. We'll hear about what happens when a young boy from a Jewish family falls in love with a young woman who is a Gentile. I hope our listeners can be with us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We'll see you next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas, a ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ.
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